On this second day of March, with an unprovoked war raging in Ukraine, I am anxiously spinning in the split screen experience of the moment. While Ukrainian families and citizen soldiers are hunkered down trying to protect themselves from an armed dictator, I have the luxury to think about the next 2 months, anticipating the opening of “Funny Girl” on Broadway, rehearsing for a community theater production, “The Dark Side of Disney,” preparing for an upcoming trip to Israel and making Passover plans. Or, I am obsessively sitting in front of the television, putting myself right there in the middle of it all, shocked that in 2022 the Military Industrial Complex still reigns supreme. As I bring my life experiences to the moment, I wonder what can I do to support President Zelensky and the beyond brave population of Ukraine? There is no doubt that the fact I am named after a Galicianer from Lemberg/Lviv is contributing to the massive shaking of my soul I am experiencing in this moment. Marry that with our collective shock that a democracy is being attacked by an autocracy in 2022 and it is no wonder I am caught in this spinning split screen.
When Fanny Brice, the iconic Jewish comic, and Fanny Chollick, my great-grandmother, lived through World Wars I and II, neither of these Fannys experienced the direct impact of the wars raging overseas on the European continent. Their knowledge of the horrors of armed conflict was limited to what was reported by the newspapers and the news services, relying on radio airwaves and morse code, images conveyed through movie newsreels. By the time I was named for Fanny in March of 1958, images of WWII had become part of our cultural landscape. I grew up in Akron, Ohio near an armory so the sight of tanks rolling by was commonplace. My father served in Korea in the early 1950’s and I knew that the Soviet Union had the capability to kill me, so we learned how to hide under our desks. Cramped in our little kitchen on Winston Rd., we ate dinner while watching the carnage unfold in Southeast Asia. Yet, it wasn’t until I was an adult living in Israel during the terror filled days of the Second Intifada that I experienced the visceral fear that war brings to the soul.
As the decades passed, I became fascinated by geopolitics, reclaimed my Zionist roots and my passion for Jewish music. Like many of my peers, I got married, became a mother, a grandmother and a very proud and active member of the global Jewish community. The Information Age dawned just as I began devoting my time, talent and treasure to supporting both Israel as well as the emerging Jewish communities throughout the Former Soviet Union. I was blessed to travel with the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet to Vilnius, Lithuania, the site of the Ponary massacre and Minsk, Belarus; I’ve been hosted by the JCC in St. Petersburg, Russia and have marveled at the rebirth of Jewish culture on land in Eastern Europe that holds so much complicated history for our displaced people. And, I always knew that I was named after a very stately Galicianer from Lemberg, now known as Lviv. In other words, even when I turn off CNN, I can’t turn off the images that are constantly playing on the screen in my mind.
Nor do I want to and neither should you. It is so much easier to turn away from the War in Ukraine, to focus on the upcoming Broadway season, to think about my “Dark Side of Disney” show or the fact that the Omicron variant surge has passed and masks are coming off, for now. Yet the mothers and grandmothers and sisters and aunts who have joined the men in taking up arms in defense of their homes compel me to continue to watch, to bear witness to the absolute horror unfolding in real time, in color, in the comfort of our homes or on our devices.
Neither Fanny could stay connected to the horrors of war in the way this Frannie can. This Frannie, who now knows what it feels like to be a mother and a grandmother is shocked beyond belief that other women, just like me, are living in a state of war simply because the Military Industrial Complex continues to fuel the global economy. The Mothers of the World need to say to those who are profiting from the guns, the missiles, the tanks, the trailers, the rocket launchers, the screws, the axels, the warplanes, the helmets, even the uniforms the military wears when they are doing the job of defending our interests ENOUGH. Ask whether you know someone who profits because they are a defense contractor. Someone whose company makes a trailers that allows a country to move its projectile missiles around so that its enemies can be afraid. I do. I won’t say his name but I hope if someone shares this piece with this major Jewish lay leader in Cleveland, they will ask him if maybe he can acquire his great wealth another way. Imagine if the Mothers of the World demanded that the men stop making weapons of war and instead use the materials to build homes for the homeless throughout the world. But then again, men have a thing about projectiles, don’t they?
It is one of the great ironies of modern history that the fight for democracy in Ukraine is being led by a Jewish comedian, President Volodymyr Zelensky. I wonder if like the other Jewish comedian on my mind these days, Fanny Brice, President Zelensky also sings. And while I know that every Ukrainian is finding strength in their national anthem, to ground myself in this screen splitting moment, I needed to find something to sing from our tradition, to send to President Zelensky, that could strengthen him, his people and our people as well. Last night, in the magnificent sanctuary of Ansche Chesed, joined by 5 other singers, we sang a revised version of the famed “Partisans Song” which strengthened the Jewish fighters during the darkest days of the Holocaust.
Putin is bombing innocent Ukrainian People for no reason other than military pride and territorial gain. Putin is violating the international world order in a flagrant way. Putin has created a massive refugee crisis. Putin has bombed the Babyn Yar Memorial in Kyiv. Every lover of freedom, democracy and life must stand up and demand that this man be stopped. We must not look away. We must send our strength, our support and our song to the Ukrainian people.
For the sake of those who live in the land of Fanny Chollick, I will not stay silent. I support President Volodmyr Zelensky, the Jewish comedian who has taken to the world stage in a way that even his mother could not have imagined. She clearly raised him to be a good, strong, moral man. May She Above protect this mother’s son and the millions who are in harm’s way. And may my President and the Allies find a way to stop the dictator Putin.
Oh we know that Ukraine is far away.
Still we share this melody to say.
We stand with you as you resist today.
For Freedom will always find Her Way.